Why some shows are different from others

The last few weeks they’ve been playing a couple of episodes a night of Californication from series one on. I’ve sat on the couch watching. Though I’ve watched it all before – and some episodes several times – it’s been a favourite daily activity. I love the show, and Hank Moody. It has great entertainment value, but I also find much in it I can relate to, as I’ve written here before.

In my mind there are TV shows you’re indifferent too – the great majority; TV shows you like or even love, but purely as entertainment; and the TV shows you love because they are entertaining AND because they transcend entertainment. These shows are few, but stick with you because somehow they react directly with the person you are.

There are plenty of shows I like plenty like Dexter, Boardwalk Empire, The Walking Dead, and so on. I’ve just started watching an excellent Oz program called The Devil’s Playground that I find both fascinating and entertaining. I relish watching these programs each week. They’re a part of my schedule. They divert me for the allotted period, and will often leave me thinking about them afterwards. They aren’t personal though. I can relate in general terms perhaps – for example I’m fascinated watching the Australian period detail in The Devil’s Playground because I lived in that environment – but they don’t touch directly upon one of those tender spots inside. Seinfeld, perhaps was similar – a show that I utterly related to because we lived and talked like that back in the day (it’s a show that created its own eco-system), but most of it is surface.

Then there are the shows you watch and feel as you do as if something is unravelling inside of you. What you see on screen in some way feels like you, or your life, or your felt experience. You can laugh, say, at what you see in screen, but at the same time and on a deeper level feel some kind of relationship to the events portrayed or, more often, the characters portrayed.

I’ve written many a time about Mad Men in the past. There’s a show – and a character – that get’s to me. On the surface it maybe shouldn’t. Much of the show is set in a time before I was born, and in a very different milieu. Culturally it is different, though there are cultural signposts throughout I have some historical relationship to (as we all do), such as the assassination of JFK, or the landing on the moon. Perhaps I can imagine a little of my parents in this program, particularly my dad, who I think worked his way up the corporate ladder in a similar sort of environment.

End of the day though I relate to Don and his perpetual travails. They may be set within an epoch, but they are universal, free of time and place. Ultimately Don’s journey is informed by his environment, but spring from deep inside him. The things that spring from him might be common to anyone because they are but one variation of human experience. They feel common to me specifically because, as I’ve described ad infinitum, because I’ve asked the same questions, sought the same answers, made the same mistakes, been driven by the same demons and desires. I’m not Don Draper – we are different people – but I understand his experiences, which is why watching Mad Men seems always such a personal experience.

It’s not quite the same with Californication and Hank Moody – who is a very different character from Don Draper. Line me up against Hank and we might be happy to sit down and have a drinking session together, but I’m a much more responsible, adult, and organised character. I share aspects of behaviour and attitude with Hank, but am in general a very different person. Still, I find whenever I watch the program something tugging at me.

When I think about it what Don and Hank share is a vulnerability. That’s a condition of human nature, but it is their brand of vulnerability I find myself responding to. They share a self-destructive streak, the hard-drinking, hard fucking sense of nihilism. Hard drinking and hard fucking are both generally enjoyable activities, but I also think there is an aspect of self-abnegation in the act.

Why do we fuck (and let’s forget about the orgasm)? Desire is the obvious reason, and though it’s true it’s also awfully simplistic. Often we fuck for the same reason that Mallory climbed Everest – because it’s there (or because we can). It’s awful fun, not just the act but the lead-up to it, but so much of it is habitual. Speaking for myself, I’m pretty well always on. It goes beyond that though. It becomes a validation of the man we present to the world. If a pretty woman deigns to have sex with us then we must possess something of value. She accepts the narrative we spin, not just to her, but to ourself. It’s affirmation in those moments that we are desirable, even loveable, and certainly fuckable. We can go away re-assured of our self-nominated place in the world.

The obverse of that – with which it happily co-exists – is the sense of oblivion in sex. As a man, and as a woman for all I know, there is that sense of burying yourself in the act. The world outside ceases to exist for a period of time, or to be important anyway. In the brute and physical act of lovemaking we express ourselves in ways that go beyond the everyday conventional. Our bodies cry out in the synchronised act of satisfying act of satisfying another. Much of our conscious mind slumbers. Those sensual, primitive parts of ourselves come to the fore. We are body that knows without knowing, a primal thing that responds on an instinctual level. For a little while we leave our busy mind behind, and escape from ourselves.

Now I’ve used sex as the best example of that, and relevant as it is a theme in both Mad Men and Californication. Men are what they do, much more than women are. We are driven to do because that’s how we find out who we are. We fill in the blanks by acting. Evidence Don Draper and his identification with his work, and his ambition – supplementary to, or substitutes for, a bereft childhood. All men are greater or lesser degrees of that. For me it is great, similar to Don, and for all I know for similar reasons. We seek our worth in the life we live and the projects we embark upon.

So I’ve been watching Californication and feeling it resonate in me, more obliquely than in Mad Men, but nearly as deep. Hank is the good-hearted hedonist, the muck-up with a heart of gold – and talent. What is it that touches me in him? I see myself in elements of his behaviour, that fuck it attitude and willingness to plunge in. I believe in so many things about him, even if I could never be him. I’d be glad to party with him, and in my memory find much I see him doing that I have done, or similar. It brings a wry smile to my face. It’s been a while though, and I think it would be no bad thing to get back to come of that. My life is unbalanced, by my standards anyway, and it’s time I indulged the pleasure-seeking sensualist inside me.

I suspect each of us have a different set of TV shows that somehow define who we think ourselves to be.

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